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Tampa council grants protections to transgender people

TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday gave unanimous preliminary approval to expanding its human rights ordinance to protect transgender people from discrimination.

But does that mean cross dressers are protected, too?

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of "gender identity and expression."

"Is it today that I'm sitting next to Albert and tomorrow I'm sitting next to Alice?" asked council member Charlie Miranda.

If someone has a sex-change operation, he or she should be protected, he said.

"I just want to be perfectly clear. I'm not looking to see that same person change over and change back on a daily basis," Miranda said. "That would be disruptive."

Council Chairman Tom Scott echoed his sentiments.

"The issue is about discrimination, not cross dressing," he said.

Both Miranda and Scott voted in favor of the proposed ordinance after City Attorney Chip Fletcher assured them that it isn't meant to protect the occasional cross dresser. On Thursday morning, Joseph Caetano cast the lone "no" in the 6-1 vote. He changed his vote later in the day, saying that he didn't want to discriminate against anyone.

On Thursday morning, Caetano tried to amend the ordinance to explicitly say it wouldn't protect cross dressers.

"If a gentleman dresses up as a woman, does he have a right to go into a ladies restroom? I think this is going to create a lot of problems," Caetano said.

Other council members rejected the amendment, saying cross dressing would not pose a major problem in the workplace.

"It might add a little interest to the day," said council member Mary Mulhern. "I'm fine with the ordinance the way it is, and I don't think we should add more discrimination into it."

Council member John Dingfelder agreed.

"It's government's role to be sure there's no discrimination against anybody, whether they're Tom, Theresa or back and forth," he said.

The council decided to broaden the ordinance at the request of the city's Human Rights Board.

"The council has taken a very good stand today," board chairman Philip Dinkins said.

Dinkins said he believes the ordinance protects cross dressers. Because sexual reassignment surgery is expensive and requires a great deal of support, more superficial means are the only way for some people to be true to their inner selves, he said.

"If someone cross dresses because they feel they are of a different gender, that's perfectly fine," he said. If a man "wants to put on a dress and that's who they feel they really are, let them do it. I don't understand the disruption."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa council grants protections to transgender people 11/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 12:05am]
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